Sergeant Nagel led Aksinya and Father Dobrushin into the private luncheon room within the Rathaus. They sat at a private table near the back of the chamber. Aksinya appeared completely out of place there. Her hair had not been properly brushed in weeks. Her dress was wrinkled and stained beyond the bloody crosses that marked it. It had been the dress of a drudge to begin with. She had not had a bath either—not in a long while. She glanced at Father Dobrushin in his clean and well pressed suit and stood, “I don’t belong here.”
Father Dobrushin didn’t look at her, “Sit down, now. Judge Richter sent you here so you would not have to face the reporters yet.”
She sat, “Yet?”
“When you win and are redeemed, you will have to answer some of their questions. When that happens, I suggest you keep quiet and allow me to speak for you.”
“I will win? What does that mean?”
“It means that you will be found not guilty and you will be released.”
“This is certain?”
“Nothing is certain. All I know is that I will do everything I can to save you.”
“Perhaps you are the foolish one. What do you gain from all this? I can’t pay your bill. In fact, who did pay my bills on the remaining claims?”
“You did? Why would you do that for me?”
“Right now, I want you to eat something nice and have tea the way you like it.”
“I like tea best the way Natalya makes it for me.”
Father Dobrushin smiled, “You act as though nothing happened to estrange you from anyone else in the world.”
“Because I can’t control what anyone else does. I can only control what I do or think. I learned that long before I met the demon. He just reminded me of it.”
Father Dobrushin couldn’t say anything after that. He ordered then both lunch and tea.
Just before one o’clock, Sergeant Nagel escorted them back to the courtroom. They returned to their seats and waited for the rest of the court to gather.
Directly at one, behind the large desk, two judges came through the door at the right and two judges through the door at the left. The bailiff of the court struck his staff against the floor, “Hear ye, hear ye, this Schöffengericht is reconvened in the name of Emperor Charles the first of and the . I present again The Honorable Gustav Richter, The Honorable Artur Kuester, Lay Judge Albert Vogler, and Lay Judge Oscar Amsel. May the justice of the Lord God Almighty reign in all the affairs of men.”
Judge Richter started up immediately, “The focus of this afternoon are the charges of assault and battery against Princess Aksinya. The first witness whom I wish to call is the Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska. Sergeant Nagel.”
In a couple of minutes, Natalya followed Sergeant Nagel into the courtroom. She walked with excellent posture, but one of her shoulders drooped a little lower than the other.
Aksinya gave a little cry when she saw Natalya. Natalya’s eyes lit up. She ran to Aksinya and curtsied to the floor. Aksinya took Natalya’s hand and lifted her up. She stood and embraced Natalya. Aksinya kissed Natalya’s cheeks. They were wet with tears.
Judge Richter cleared his throat a couple of times. He rolled his eyes. Finally he said something, “Herr Lopuhin, this is highly irregular.” He paused, “But…yes, I understand.” He sighed and slumped back into his seat.
Natalya cried, “They wouldn’t let me see you. I begged and begged, but they said you were in jail.”
Aksinya laughed, “I was in jail. I will likely go to prison. I love you so much, and I am so sorry. I missed you.”
“And I you, mistress. I wish to join your household again.”
Aksinya looked down, “I have none.”
Father Dobrushin took Aksinya by the arm, “Princess, that is enough. The Lady Natalya must testify.”
“Yes, you must testify and ensure you tell the truth, Lady Natalya.”
Natalya nodded and presented a very worried look on her face.
Sergeant Nagel led Natalya to the witness chair.
Judge Richter put down his handkerchief, “Judges, please don’t let any of the previous conversation or actions cloud your judgment. I only allowed it because it seemed an appropriate greeting between friends.” He tried to put on a stern look, “Lady Natalya, please announce your full name to the court.”
Natalya’s voice was soft but clear, “I am the Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska.”
“What is your relationship to the Princess Aksinya.”
Natalya put her hands together, “The Count…Princess I mean, rescued me. No one else in the world would help me, but she did.”
“I was a handmaiden to a noble family in . They treated me like a slave. The Princess rescued me from there and offered me the position of her lady-in-waiting. She gave me clothing and jewelry. She cared for me and sent me to school. She called me her friend and confidant.”
“Can you describe the events of the evening when the Princess beat you?”
“It was the evening that the Princess was supposed to deliver her answer to Herr von Taaffe.”
“Her answer to what?”
“To his proposal of marriage. Ernst von Taaffe offered to marry her and his father the Graf von Taaffe encouraged the match. I knew her answer before she gave it.”
“Did she tell you what she would answer the young man?”
“No, Ernst von Taaffe is an honorable man, but he had two very important books that belonged to the Princess. She wanted them back. I knew that no matter what happened, her desire for the books would cloud her thinking.”
“What does this have to do with the Princess beating you?”
“This is the reason she beat me.”
“What was the reason?”
Aksinya stood. Natalya stood. Half the courtroom stood. Aksinya pointed her finger, “Lady Natalya, I forbid you to tell them why I beat you.”
Father Dobrushin pulled Aksinya back into her seat, “The press has already published the reason in the papers. She announced it during the ecclesiastical trial. There is no reason for you to stop her testimony.”
Aksinya held her head in her hands, “She shouldn’t have to say it again.”
Natalya sat back down, “The reason the Princess beat me was because I seduced the man she wished to marry. I seduced Herr von Taaffe. Because of that, the Princess rightly became enraged. I deserved to be beaten by her. I deserved every stroke. I did not wish to proffer charges against her. The ecclesiastical court presented them in my name. I wish for this court to absolve the Princess of every charge related to this. I know she asked my pardon, and I know from my priest that she has confessed. I wish to absolutely forgive her and pardon her for this sin against me, because I was the cause of it. I only wish she could forgive my sin against her.”
Judge Richter pressed his palms against the top of the desk, “Are you certain of what you say Lady Natalya?”
Natalya nodded vigorously.
Aksinya spoke almost automatically, “Lady Natalya, you must speak your response aloud.”
Natalya turned and smiled at Aksinya, “I do mean everything I have said. I did not bring any charges against her. I committed a more grave crime than she. I admit this freely.”
Judge Richter turned to Prosecutor Trauen, “Prosecutor, there are no other charges against the Princess. Do you have anything else you wish to propose or anything you wish to ask this witness?”
Prosecutor Trauen stood and tapped his glasses against his hand, “Your Honor, without any remaining charges, there is no reason to continue this trial.”
“I agree, however, in good order, I wish to confer with the other judges before we pronounce our judgment. There is another issue in relation to this person that must also be decided.”
Father Dobrushin stood, “Your Honor, I beg you not to make any decision that might affect the freedom of the Princess without conferring first with me.”
Judge Richter nodded. He stood and led the other judges back through their respective doors.
Natalya moved over to Akisnya’s table and Father Dobrushin gave her his seat. Aksinya kissed her cheeks again and held her close, “Lady Natalya, I am so sorry for the suffering I caused you. I do beg your pardon.”
“And, I you,” Natalya laughed, “Tears. When did you ever shed tears for any reason Princess? I am afraid that beyond this moment, we will not be able to see one another again.”
“Why is that?”
“You have no household and likely will have none, and I am kept by Herr von Taaffe.”
“And you wish to be with him?”
“I would rather be with you, but Father Dobrushin has recommended against it.”
“Does Herr von Taaffe treat you poorly?”
“No, just the opposite. He treats me too well. Almost as well as he treated you before.”
“Are you jealous?”
“I should be, but I am not. I never loved Herr von Taaffe. I loved the things he could provide me. I suspect you never get drunk when you go out with Herr von Taaffe.”
Aksinya smiled, “What does Herr von Taaffe plan to do since his father has rejected him?”
“He has business ventures of his own. It is not as great as his family’s, but they are substantial. He wishes to move away from Wien and pursue this work.”
Aksinya sighed, “So long as you are pleased and taken care of.”
Natalya laughed, “I have never been taken care of in my life. I care for others, that is what I am called to do. That is also what pleases me.”
The doors behind the large desk opened and the judges stepped to their seats. The Bailiff stuck his staff against the ground, “Hear ye, hear ye, this Schöffengericht shall pronounce judgment in the name of Emperor Charles the first of and the . May the justice of the Lord God Almighty reign in all the affairs of men.”
Judge Richter didn’t sit. He shuffled his papers for a moment, “Princess Aksinya Georgovna Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov also known as the Countess Golitsyna, the unanimous verdict of this Schöffengericht is that you are not guilty of any of the charges brought against you in this court.”
Aksinya stared at the Judges. She turned her head toward Father Dobrushin. Natalya beamed. Aksinya asked, “What does it mean? What is he saying? Am I not guilty?”
Father Dobrushin whispered, “You are not guilty.”
“But I am guilty of something and especially certain sins.”
“That’s not what this court was to determine.”
Aksinya obviously didn’t understand.
Natalya took Aksinya’s hand, “That is wonderful, Princess. You shall go free.”
Aksinya swallowed against a lump, “I shall never be free, but I am happy not to go to prison.”
The judge continued to speak.
Aksinya almost clapped her hands together, “Now he will tell me the truth about my guilt.”
Father Dobrushin shushed her.
Judge Richter stated, “Although, this Schöffengericht finds the Princess Aksinya not guilty, the State of Austria has received international letters concerning the Princess. Both of them request her return to , one for political reasons and the other as extradition for criminal prosecution. The State of Austria has asked me to make a recommendation and a judgment based on the case at hand. Since this is not directly related to the charges, only to any potential sentencing, there is no reason for the prosecution to respond. Defense councilor would you like to make a statement in regard to these requests?”
Father Dobrushin stood, “Yes, Your Honor. I have reviewed both letters as well as the laws of the State of Austria as it applies to this circumstance. It is not in the Princess’ best interest to entertain either request from either Russian claim to authority. She desires to continue as an émigré in and be allowed self-determination in all related issues. If the court will not grant her this freedom then she is willing to petition the State of Austria for asylum.”
Judge Richter wrote on the paper in front of him, “There will be no need for that, council. I am granted the authority to reject either or both requests as a recommendation of this court. It was only in the case of a guilty verdict that the Princess would be extradited to without her consent. Therefore, by the authority of the State of Austria granted to me, I declare again that you are not guilty of any crime tried in this court and that you are immediately released to the custody of Father Dobrushin Sergeevich Lopuhin.
Aksinya stood and the rest of the court stood. Aksinya put out her hand, but by the time she could get out a single word, the judges were gone. She stuttered, “Wait…”
Father Dobrushin asked, “What did you want, Princess?”
“He gave me into your custody—why?”
“I asked for it in the court papers.”
“Because, I want to be the one to help you from now on. It is official. You report to me in all issues of your employment, schooling, and living arrangements.”
Natalya hugged Aksinya, “I have to go, Princess, Herr von Taaffe is waiting for me.”
Aksinya took her hand, “I pray this is not the last time I shall see you.”
“If it is the last or not, I will never forget you, Princess. Go with all the blessings of the earth.” She moved quickly to where Ernst von Taaffe stood at the side of the room. He made a slight bow toward Aksinya, but he didn’t smile.
“And all the blessings of the heavens,” Father Dobrushin continued for her. “Come, Princess, the day is not over and we have work that must be finished before tomorrow.” He placed his long coat over her shoulders and started for the door.
Aksinya rushed to catch up to him, “What must we do before tomorrow?”
“We will speak about it at dinner. First, we must negotiate the reporters. They will take your picture.”
“I look terrible.”
“You won’t look any better if you don’t smile. I suggest that you hold your shoulders very straight, act like the princess you are, and smile at every opportunity.”
“Yes…yes, I shall.”
“Then come on.”
Aksinya took his arm. Before they left the Rathaus, Sergeant Nagel brought Aksinya’s blankets and the Greek Bible to them. Father Dobrushin put them under his arm and carried them for Aksinya.
They made it past the reporters and Aksinya only had to answer some simple questions. She was certain she was smiling every time a flashbulb went off. The worst question was what she would do now. Father Dobrushin answered for her. She thought he said something like she would spend time in quiet contemplation and study, but she was too busy holding to his arm while trying to smile for the cameras.
Once they were free of the reporters, Father Dobrushin hailed them a carriage and took her to a woman’s emporium where she could bathe and have her hair styled. The attendants fitted a new dress to her. It was very beautiful but not too extravagant. It was made of white wool with a lining of silk and very warm. She received two other dresses, a long coat, and a leather pair of shoes. The coat was wool. Father Dobrushin packed her extra clothing in a small case and they took another carriage to a restaurant that was not far from the Rathaus.
The maître d’ led them to a quiet table at the side. Father Dobrushin ordered for them both. He poured Aksinya a glass of wine from the bottle he ordered—only one glass. She had to nurse it through the entire meal. The quality of the wine wasn’t that good. It was thin and sour. The food wasn’t very plentiful or fine. Still, Aksinya ate everything with pleasure. It was much better than the food she had in the jail. Father Dobrushin didn’t say much until the Spartan meat course. Then he added an ounce to the remaining amount in her glass and lifted his, “To you Princess and our victory in court.”
“Thank you, Father, but I should be thanking you over and over. You believed me when no one else would.”
“I believed in you because of who you are.” He paused a moment then stated, “I think I have determined a means to break your contract with the demon.”
A look of hope filled Aksinya’s face, “What should I do?”
“Do you remember the book of Tobit, from the Apocrypha?”
“This same demon pestered Sarah daughter of Raguel, and killed the seven men who had been affianced to her before they could consummate the marriage with her.”
Aksinya leaned her head in her upraised hands, “Tobit was helped by an angel, the angel Raphael. There is no angel to help me.”
“When Tobias, the son of Tobit, and Sarah were in their bridal chamber, Raphael was not present.”
“I remember, Tobias took parts of a fish and burned it on the incense. The smell caused the demon to stay away and it was bound by Raphael in —I think. But who would bind the demon for me?”
Father Dobrushin sipped his wine, “You forget the part that says they prayed together.”
“Tobias and Sarah prayed together.”
Aksinya laughed, “So we must find someone foolish enough to marry me and confront the demon. I am ugly and shaped like a boy. I have no money, family, position, or goods. No man would marry me. Plus, I don’t have a magic fish, and my father is dead. There is no one to find a husband for me.”
“Listen very closely to me, Princess Aksinya. I am willing to marry you.”
She swallowed, “Why…why would you do that?”
He smiled, “I am foolish enough to marry you to confront this demon.”
“In spite of my ugliness?”
“Your beauty lies within your soul, but Princess, I don’t believe you are ugly at all.”
“If I marry, I don’t intend it to be for less than life. Do you think you could put up with me for that long?”
Dobrushin leaned back, “You ask that and you don’t even know who I am.”
“Then who are you?”
“You heard my given name in court, and you didn’t recognize it?”
She thought a moment, “Father Dobrushin Sergeevich Lopuhin. Lopuhin is a name I recognize. It is a name of Russian aristocracy.”
“My father was also a Count, and I was his third son. Since I didn’t expect to inherit anything, I studied theology and law. I was ordained in the Orthodox Church. I think I told you before, I came to Wien at the request of the church to help the Russian refugees during the war and later the revolution. I have been here for three years. I’m twenty-six.”
Aksinya sat up, “You have everything prepared in life for you. You are educated. You are an aristocrat. You are acknowledged. You are a holy man. You have the potential to be someone great. In addition, you are handsome and kind. You could have any honorable woman you wish. Why would you want to marry me?”
Dobrushin bent toward her, “Because you need me. I joined the church because I wanted to help others. I became a lawyer to help others. You are a person who was the most needy yet the most powerful and independent I have ever met.”
“If I marry you, I just want one thing.”
“What is that?”
“You know how I desire. You must swear to give me all the physical attention I want.”
He shook his head, “Is that all you really wish from me?”
“I always wanted to be held by my mother, she did not hold her children. My adopted father was affectionate but my mother disapproved. I have never had enough attention from anyone.”
“That’s all you want—attention. Doesn’t love concern you at all?”
Aksinya lowered her eyes, “I know you have agape love for me or you wouldn’t have spent so much effort to help me. Ekaterina told me that the love of friends can grow by getting to know and spending time with each other. I’m not certain we are friends yet either, but I would like to be your friend.”
“We are already friends.”
“Do you realize what could happen to you if what you propose doesn’t work?”
“I do realize the danger.”
She gave him a sly look, “How will you chase off the demon? Do you have the special parts of a fish?”
“I have this,” Father Dobrushin stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out a heart shaped necklace. “Is this the surety the demon gave you?”
Aksinya’s mouth fell open. She squeaked, “That is it. Where did you find it?”
“It was inside your jewelry box just as you described it.”
“You bought it back?”
“I did indeed. All the merchants to whom your goods were sold were listed in the court documents. When I paid off the claims against you, I found the jeweler who bought your jewelry. If you notice…” Father Dobrushin scooted his chair closer to her and Aksinya leaned her head toward his, “If you notice, there is the design of a fish on the pendant.”
Aksinya was acutely aware of the man beside her. She licked her lips, “So what must we do?”
“We must be married then, before we come together, we must burn this with incense, and pray. Finally, we must like Tobias and Sarah consummate the marriage.”
“If it is not done in the proper way, the demon will kill you. If this doesn’t work…”
“I’ll be dead, and you will still be under the contract of Asmodeus.”
“And still a virgin,” Aksinya murmured.
“What did you say?”
She smiled, “I would like to try this, but now, more than ever, I don’t wish to lose you.”
“I don’t want to die either.”
“If you found some other man to…”
“I don’t think you understand me at all. I am not willing to give you to any other man.”
Aksinya stared at him in surprise, “Do you mean that?”
“Then if you don’t love me, you feel possessively toward me. You paid my bills and took me under your protection. It is almost as if you bought me,” she laughed. “Then you desire me that much.”
“I admit. I do desire you.”
“What do you gain from this? I am nothing. I have nothing.” She lowered her face, “There is a string of horror in the wake of my life. It is all because of my choices. You would not obtain wealth. You would not obtain innocence. You would not gain notoriety. The opposite is true. My name has been paraded in the papers as a sorceress.”
He took her hands in his, “Yet I do gain something very important. I wish to see this demon. As you said, if you have seen a demon, then there must be God. And I gain a person in my life who has truly touched spiritual things.”
“Tainted by spiritual things.”
“In the church we promote the physical representation of heavenly things. Each item, the icons, the cross and crucifix, the banners, the baptistery, the altar, the church itself stand in place of their spiritual realities. The incense represents the smells, the metaepithumia, before the altar in heaven. The feel of the water is the spirit of God. The taste of the communion is the flavor of salvation. These things are only shadows of their reality, but you, you alone of all the people I have ever met, claim, and indeed show proof of not just the symbols of heavenly things, but the reality of spiritual things.”
“This is important to you?”
“The most important thing to me. Perhaps, it is due to my lack of faith. You asked me in the past if I believed in God. No one ever asked me that before. When you sought solace from the God you knew existed but could not reach, I sought to see God within you.”
“And you think you found Him?”
“I did find Him. Before, I believed, now I know. It is as simple as that. If you imagine that I found an icon in you, an icon that is both a physical and a spiritual manifestation of reality, then that is why I desire you enough to face a demon in order to marry you.”
“Perhaps you were sent to me for this purpose.”
“Perhaps everything in your life has pointed to this purpose. Dear God, Princess, you know. You know the Lord God almighty exists. You know the spiritual world is real. Not only have you seen it, you have manipulated it.” He released her right hand and pulled her left hand into his. He stroked the many scars on it. “When I saw these marks, I knew what you had been. When I heard your confession, I knew what you could become. I am willing to give up everything because of this.”
“For the purpose within you.”
Aksinya sighed, “Your words confuse me, but I am always very simple and direct. I shall marry you. I shall do as you ask and require. I shall pray with you and for you. All of this to be rid of this demon that eats away at my life and my soul. It is a fair bargain to trade my virtue to you for all you have done for me.”
“There you are wrong, Princess. You can desire without sin when the object of desire is appropriate. You would not give your virtue to me and I would not give my virtue to you. We would rather retain that virtue together in our mutual desire as husband and wife.”
Aksinya turned a gentle smile to him, “I see. Sister Margarethe taught me you can love without lust. Do you intend to teach me that I can love God and still possess desire?”
“I would teach you that you can still love and have desire.” He smiled, “But you are only allowed desire for me.”
“We should accomplish this soon before the demon can work anymore mischief in your life. The first step is marriage.”
“Will Father Makar marry us?”
“I don’t know.” Father Dobrushin lowered his eyes.
“What are you not telling me?”
“It is nothing. We will ask him tonight. Perhaps he will do as I ask.”
They quickly finished their dinner and Father Dobrushin hired a carriage to take them to the Ecclesia.
When they arrived at the church, the lights were off except in the rectory. Father Dobrushin helped Aksinya down from the carriage and they walked together to the door. Aksinya held onto his arm. She kept very close to him.
At Father Dobrushin’s knock, Father Makar answered the door to the rectory. It was the same door Aksinya had fallen before when she came there to confess and be absolved. The moment he saw them, Father Makar pressed his lips together and tried to shut the door. Father Dobrushin held it open with his hand, “Please Father Makar. We need you to do something for us.”
“Dobrushin, I told you before, I don’t want to have anything to do with… her.”
“This last thing we need from you. Only you can do it for us.”
“If it has to do with the imaginary demon, you are both insane.”
They heard the voice of Ekaterina from the kitchen, “Makaruska, let them in. There is no reason our friends should stand out in the cold night. We have tea and a warm kitchen.”
Father Makar snarled, but he stepped out of the door way, “You are welcome only because of her.”
Aksinya and Father Dobrushin followed Father Makar into the kitchen. Ekaterina was standing. She embraced Aksinya and kissed her cheeks, “We heard you had been freed, and it was all because of Dobrushin.”
“Yes,” Aksinya still held to Father Dobrushin with one hand. She put her other arm around Ekaterina, “Father Dobrushin defended me. I am not going to prison.”
Father Makar sat at the table. He scowled at them, “You should call him Dobrushin or Herr Lopuhin.”
Aksinya asked, “Why?”
“Didn’t you note his beard, his clothing? He is no longer a priest because of you.”
“Because of me?”
“Dobrushin, didn’t you tell her. I can’t believe she is so slow. I would not permit Dobrushin to defend you in court. Because he opposed me, I took away his right to ordination in this Ecclesia. When I send my report to the Patriarch of the Church, he will likely not be ordained anywhere else.”
“You can do that?”
“Yes. I am his superior and an archpriest. I can make any decision I desire concerning his future in the Church.”
“He will never be a priest again?”
“Not likely unless the White Russians prevail. The Reds want to destroy the Church there.”
Dobrushin led Aksinya to her usual chair, “Sit, Princess.”
Aksinya would not let Dobrushin go. She held to him even as she sat and would not release his arm. He moved his chair closer to her so he could sit. Ekaterina placed a mug of hot dark tea before each of them. She sat down.
Father Makar squinted, “Look how she clings to you. Didn’t I tell you before, Dobrushin, she displays every indication of insanity? You traded your future for this,” he pointed at Aksinya.
“I know what I have done.”
“You spent all your remaining funds on her too.”
“I have bought a pearl of great price.”
“You are insane, Dobrushin. Why did you come back here? What do you want from me?”
Aksinya stuck her head forward, a little around Dobrushin, “We came to ask you to marry us.”
“To marry you? Are you both idiots? Dobrushin, what have you traded your future for?”
Dobrushin set his features, “Father Makar, we will be married whether you do it or not. We need to be married immediately. Either you do it or the Rathaus.”
“The Rathaus is closed for the day.”
Dobrushin grimaced, “This may be a matter of life and death. We had to make our plans. I had to propose. It was too late after that.”
Father Makar snorted, “You know what I think about all of this. Why don’t you go find a priest who will marry you tomorrow?”
“You know the problem. The Catholics have excommunicated Princess Aksinya. The Rathaus will do it, but this is a sacrament.”
“Others might do it for you.”
Ekaterina put her hand on Father Makar’s, “Makaruska, do you really wish them to be wed anywhere but here? They intend to do this. You know Dobrushin’s purpose. Grant them this small gift. I shall witness and you shall witness. Anything else would be wrong. You know that.”
Father Makar sighed, “I do understand. I just do not want to encourage this foolishness.”
Ekaterina stared at him, “This is not a sin. There is nothing wrong with marriage or marrying them. She is a Princess. He is the son of a Count. Their ranks are unmatched but acceptable. They would not come here together like this if they did not both agree. Do this for them and that will be the end of it all.”
“The end of it all?” asked Aksinya around Dobrushin.
“The end of these matters that have plagued Father Makar since you came to the Ecclesia last year.”
Aksinya turned them a curious look.
Dobrushin quickly continued, “Please, Father Makar, marry us and that will be the last favor I ask of you. We will go, and you will likely not see us again.”
“I will marry you, but you will not stay under this roof any more. I told you that when you left before. That means I will not untie your crowns either.”
“I understand. That was the agreement we made.”
“Come then. Quickly.”
They stood. Dobrushin helped Aksinya take off her new coat. Ekaterina kissed Aksinya’s cheeks. She brushed Aksinya’s lengthening hair. Then they entered the Ecclesia together.